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Rochester is situated in western New York on the southern shores of Lake Ontario. It's the state's third largest city, and its history is marked by innovation, invention and social progressivism. The prolific waterways spurred the city’s early growth, and the construction of the Erie Canal resulted in Rochester being the first US “boom town.”
Rochester was home to pioneer activists Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, and today visitors can tour their homes. George Eastman brought Kodak to the city at the turn of the 20th century, and now the town is home to the George Eastman Museum, a major draw for visitors. Rochester is also known for its family-friendly attractions, including the Strong National Museum of Play, the second largest children’s museum in the U.S.
REASONS TO GO:
I’m Ready for My Closeup: The George Eastman Museum was the home of photography pioneer George Eastman. It spans more than 35,000 square feet and showcases nearly 500,000 photos, films and artifacts from and about his life and work. Daily tours of the museum and grounds are available, and you can watch films—from silent films to modern-day digital movies—in the Dryden theater.
Let’s Play: The Strong National Museum of Play features interactive collections devoted to the history and exploration of play. Kids and adults can revel in its exhibits of video games, TV shows, trains, history and comic books. The Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden houses thousands of butterflies and visitors can marvel at the games and toys in the National Toy Hall of Fame, including the iconic Etch-a-Sketch and Silly Putty.
A Day in the Park: Highland Botanical Park spans more than 150 acres and is an arboretum that hosts the city’s annual Lilac Festival each May. It features more than 500 varieties of lilacs as well as Japanese maples, magnolias, wildflowers and a rock garden. Enjoy the Lamberton Conservatory Greenhouse and the 10,000-plant floral “carpet” that shows off new designs each year.
St. Michael's Church: This Gothic stone church, less than two miles north of downtown, dates to 1874 and has a 10-foot gilded cross. A total of 15 vibrant stained glass windows light the nave, transept and sanctuary, and the church seats 1,100 parishioners. At mass, hymns ring out from an organ with more than 2,100 pipes.
I Could Eat That!: Rochester is known for a local "delicacy" called the Garbage Plate. It was created at Nick Tahou Hots and is made with baked beans or macaroni salad topped with potatoes, burger meat, hot dogs, Italian sausage, chicken tenders, fish, ham, grilled cheese or eggs. It's everything but the kitchen sink. Wash it down with some Abbott’s Frozen Custard—think of it as the creamiest, richest soft-serve ice cream you've ever tasted.
OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES IN AND NEAR ROCHESTER:
Finger Lakes Wine Country: Head about 60 miles south of downtown to the Finger Lakes Wine Country, where you can tour individual wineries, breweries and distilleries and have an alfresco lunch at one of the many restaurants. Consider packing your own feasts to enjoy an afternoon lakeside picnic. Most wineries are open all year, but the peak season is spring and summer.
Genesee Riverway Trail: The "GRT" is a 24-mile long off-road trail that parallels—and sometimes crosses—the Genesee Riverway. The city doesn’t have a walkability factor other than this outlet, which connects to many other trails, including the Genesee Valley Greenway. You can view the river gorge, three waterfalls and eleven separate parks. There are historic components, too, including a stone lighthouse that dates to 1822 and Corn Hill, a preserved Victorian-era residential district. The trail also intersects downtown dining, shopping and entertainment.
WHEN TO GO: Rochester winters are long and intense, and winter sports aren’t huge in the city. Many Rochesterians head to Bristol Mountain, about 45 minutes away, for downhill skiing. The city warms up by May, and that’s when the festivals start, kicking off with the beloved Lilac Festival in Highland Park.
Summertime brings average temps in the mid-70s. Take a tour of the roses while enjoying music, food vendors and activities for the children at the Maplewood Rose Celebration in June. All of the above, plus arts and crafts and fireworks, are part of the program to kick off summer. Winter is snowy, and you can sled, snowshoe or ski through Powder Mills Park about 13 miles northwest of downtown.
TRAVEL TIP: Minor league sports are huge in Rochester throughout the year. Head to a venue to catch an exhilarating game of baseball with the Red Wings team or see the Rochester Americans hockey team duke it out on the ice. Score!